Home Preparedness

Landlord Responsibility for Radon in Rental Housing

Like all contracts, the landlord-tenant relationship is subject to sets of laws and guidelines. The most critical principle that defines the responsibility of landlords to their tenants is called “The Implied Warranty of Habitability.”

It means that any property owner who offers their home for rent gives the renter a guarantee that they have done everything to make the property habitable throughout the lease.

This guarantee does not have to be discussed (a tenant does not need to ask about it), and it must not have to be included in the lease agreement. By the mere fact of putting the home up for rent, the law assumes a landlord is assuring potential renters that the house is habitable.

Making a home habitable means that it meets the basic living standards, namely: drinkable water, heating for cold weather, hot water, functioning electricity, sufficient ventilation, smoke & CO2 detectors, working sanitary systems (bathroom, toilet & sewage), security (locks/window guards) and freedom from pests.

Though this list covers most of what is included in a landlord’s Implied Warranty of Habitability, it is not everything. Anything that jeopardizes the safety of the tenants in a rental home can be included. One such thing, which has been gaining a lot of attention lately, is radon poisoning.

What is radon poisoning?

Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil that is rich in uranium and rock. The gas is created by the normal decay of uranium and is released into the surrounding soil. Once released, radon gas will travel upwards through the ground until it reaches the surface.

On reaching the surface, the gas is released into the air, and it will become harmless. That is because it quickly dilutes to low levels that are not dangerous. Outdoor radon concentration levels range from 5 Bq/m3 to 15 Bq/m3. This is not enough to hurt anyone.

If there is a house over a ground that emits radon, it can seep into the home through cracks and gaps in the foundation. When this happens, it becomes trapped inside the building. The people in the house, being unaware of the radon buildup, will inhale the gas.

Inside the human body, radon continues to decay, and during that process emits radiation – alpha particles. These particles find their way into the cells of the body and damage the DNA. The end result is, after prolonged exposure to radon, the person develops lung cancer.

Radon is identified as the second leading cause of lung cancer in the USA after smoking. Estimates from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say that around 21,000 deaths occur annually from radon-related lung cancer.

What makes radon so dangerous is that the gas is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. There can be high concentrations of it in a home without the occupants knowing. EPA guidelines say that any radon concentration at or above 148 Bq/m3 (4 pCi/L) is dangerous.

Can landlords be held liable for a natural hazard?

The issue of landlord liability for radon poisoning is not a straightforward matter. Firstly, most states do not mandate automatic testing for radon in a rental home. Secondly, only a few states require landlords to make a disclosure about radon contamination to tenants.

However, all states expect landlords to do something about high radon contamination in their property if the issue is brought to their notice. Also, specific situations occur where a landlord may become liable for radon poisoning if a tenant sues them. For instance:

  • The landlord knew about the problem: The landlord could be liable if he/she had the information about the issue from the former owner or became aware of it but did nothing to mitigate it.
  • The problem is widespread in the area: If radon contamination is a known problem in the area, it is the landlord’s responsibility to put up preventive measures to protect the tenants. If the property owner fails to do this, they may be held liable.
  • The tenant raised the issue: If a tenant, at any time, expressed concerns to the landlord about possible radon contamination in the home, the landlord is obligated to investigate the issue. If the landlord fails to do this, they may be liable.

What to do about radon

Radon has been found in all kinds of homes in the US; the only way to detect its presence is through direct testing for the gas. To protect the health of their tenants, secure their rental business, and avoid trouble with the law, it is recommended that every landlord test their home for radon.

The average cost of testing for radon is $125 to $350. Some short-term DIY radon testing kits cost as little as $15. This cost is inconsequential compared to the benefits of having a safe rental and knowing that there is no risk of a radon lawsuit from current and future tenants.

Posted by South Florida Home Inspections  |  Comments Off on Landlord Responsibility for Radon in Rental Housing  |  in Home Preparedness

Crawl Space Care: Insulation, Ventilation, Encapsulation, Oh My!

Crawl spaces are often out of sight and, consequently, out of mind, making them easy to neglect. But don’t “space out” on your crawl space! Without proper care, your crawl space is susceptible to moisture, heat loss, pests, and a host of other complications. These common problems can damage your home’s foundation, cause sky-high energy bills, and introduce toxins to the air you breathe. With as much as 40 percent of the air in your home originating from your crawl space, learning to care for this area plays a big role in your health and the long-term health of your home.

What is a Crawl Space?

A crawl space is a small space, ranging from one to three feet in height, which resides between the bottom floor of your home and the ground. A crawl space provides extra room for electrical wiring, plumbing components, and HVAC equipment. As the height of the crawl space is limited, getting into the area must be done by crawling, either on the stomach or the hands and knees (hence the name). For those searching for homes, or who own homes in close proximity to water or swampy areas, like Florida, exploring crawl spaces can be a necessary part of a home inspection.

What’s the Difference between Crawl Space vs. Basement?

Crawl spaces are typically used in damp climates, where the ground is regularly too wet for basement construction. Supporting the home off of the ground keeps it away from moisture that could cause damage. In coastal areas where the soil is sandy, a crawl space can alleviate potential basement problems, like excessive water buildup that could put pressure on basement walls. Crawl spaces are also sometimes preferred in construction when a basement is too costly. Installing a crawl space is cheaper than installing a basement.

A basement is a popular type of foundation that can add space and functionality to a home. Basements are often used as storage space, living areas, or both. A basement combines elements of a slab and crawl space. The floor in a basement is very similar to a slab, and the support system used under the basement floor is the same as what is used in a crawl space. Although basements can be a great addition to a home, they cannot be built in areas with high moisture levels or unsettled soil. They also happen to be the most expensive type of foundation to build.

Crawl Space Solutions for Common Problems

Problem: Moisture

Homes with poor ventilation are more susceptible to crawl space issues than others. Without regular evaluation, you may not know there is a problem until it’s too late. Signs of excessive moisture throughout the home are often readily noticeable, but signs of moisture in your crawl space may be harder to detect. Unfortunately, moisture in a crawl space can be just as problematic, causing complications such as mildew, dust mites, mold, and wood rot. When there is nowhere left for moisture to go within a crawl space, it can then travel into your insulation, flooring, and walls to create even larger problems. Crawl spaces with exposed dirt most commonly have trouble with an excess of moisture.

Solution: Vapor Barrier

A vapor barrier is one of the best ways to protect your home against the encroachment of moisture. Essentially a large plastic sheet placed over the base of a crawl space, vapor barriers are intended to fully cover any exposed dirt. While this doesn’t completely eliminate moisture, it does slow the process significantly. At 50 to 70 cents per square foot, sheet plastic is a cost-effective barrier for moisture in your crawl space. A vapor barrier can be a DIY project if you’re willing to get down and dirty, but the labor that goes into covering the entire ground area can be challenging to accomplish on your own. You’ll need a friend to help you pass the rolls of sheet plastic back and forth through the crawl space, or if this sounds too labor-intensive, a professional contractor may be the way to go.

Solution: Encapsulation

If a vapor barrier alone isn’t enough to tame moisture and ventilation problems, encapsulation can be a great alternative. The first step in this process involves a vapor barrier coupled with sealing tape and coverage of walls and ceiling areas. A complete encapsulation includes drain tile, a sump pit and pump, concrete, insulation, and a dehumidifier to properly condition the air.

While placing a vapor barrier can be done independently, encapsulation is best handled by a professional. The installation process takes expertise, and installing a dehumidifier is best left to a trained technician. Hiring a contractor for this work costs about $5,500 on average.

Problem: Energy Loss

A crawl space isn’t a livable part of the home, but insulation is still important to keep the heat in. Crawl spaces can be a major source of energy loss. If you find yourself running your furnace all winter long, driving up high energy bills, yet still feel cold on the ground floor of your home, your crawl space could be the issue. If your crawl space isn’t properly insulated from the cold, you could be wasting energy and driving up your utility bills.

Solution: Insulation

Insulating your crawl space depends on the general climate in the area. In warm or dry areas, insulation can be limited to just the area between the floor joists. However, in subfreezing temperatures, insulating the walls and sealing off the crawl space is most effective. A professional can evaluate the state of your crawl space, make a recommendation, and handle the insulation process.

Problem: Pests

Rodents and insects can be a problem anywhere in your home, and a crawl space is no exception. Crawl spaces can easily become a dwelling for pests if they are not properly maintained. Since most homeowners do not spend much time in their crawl space, it may be harder to determine if there is a pest problem. Pests such as mice, rats, termites, carpenter ants, spiders and more have the ability to damage insulation, crawl through vapor barriers, dig into wood, and even tunnel into your main living spaces.

Solution: Pest Control

Proper crawl space maintenance, including encapsulation, can keep your property safe from pests. When all entrances and exits are sealed, the possibility of rodents and insects gaining entry to your home is almost impossible. If you do see signs of pests, partnering with an exterminator can treat problems at the source.

Crawl Space Inspection Checklist

A crawl space inspection is typically included in a standard home inspection when buying or selling a house. This is an area where issues tend to arise and can throw a wrench in the home sale. Both home sellers and buyers should be aware of the state of the crawl space in order to mitigate any potential problems prior to the sale. Here are the red flags that professionals look for during a crawl space inspection:

  • Electrical wiring issues
  • Plumbing issues
  • Moisture (standing water, damp insulation or warped building materials)
  • Pests (bugs, termites, rats, mice)
  • Mold and mildew
  • Ventilation issues
  • Cracks in the foundation

As a seller, you may want to have your crawl space inspected prior to listing it on the market. That way you are aware of any issues and can have them fixed before the sale, or adjust the sale price accordingly.

As a homeowner, maintaining your crawl space is critical to the health and longevity of your home. That means doing an annual inspection and attending to problems as they arise, as well as taking preventative measures to keep your house healthy. If crawling under your home doesn’t seem like fun, you can always partner with the pros and hire someone to ensure your crawl space is in good hands. With these tips and fixes, you can be sure this “foundational” part of your home is properly maintained for years to come.

Author bio: Jennifer Karami is an author at Redfin, an online real-estate service whose mission is to redefine real estate in the customer’s favor

Posted by South Florida Home Inspections  |  Comments Off on Crawl Space Care: Insulation, Ventilation, Encapsulation, Oh My!  |  in Home Preparedness

10 Things You Must Know About Home Inspection Limitations

10 Things You Must Know About Home Inspection LimitationsA professional home inspection is a visual, non- intrusive examination of the easy to access areas, systems and components of a residential home. As a homeowner you should know what the limitations are for home inspections.

South Florida Home Inspection Association provides homeowners and prospective homeowners a variety of home inspections, ranging from pre-purchase home inspections to wind mitigation inspections and everything in between. The company follows the Standards of Practice as set by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI).

We have found that many people have false expectations of what is involved with a home inspection. Here is a list of what not to expect:

  1. Not Exhaustive – A home inspection does not cover everything. It may not find all existing or potential issues. It is limited to reveal the material defects observed on the date of inspection for the areas covered by the type of inspection being performed
  2.  No Detection of Concealed Defects – As a home inspection undertakes a visual examination of the house and its various components; it is not expected to reveal any concealed defects. Destructive testing of anything in the house is strongly prohibited.
  3.  No Consideration of Aesthetic Concerns – A home inspection has nothing to do with aesthetic concerns of the home or the matters of taste or cosmetic defects. We leave that to you.
  4.  Will not determine the Suitability of the Property for Any Use – The purpose of a home inspection is to visually examine the property and give you the big picture analysis, not to assess the suitability of the property for any particular use.
  5.  Will not evaluate the Property- A home inspector is not entitled to evaluate your home and determine its market value. That sort of evaluation is done by other experts.
  6.  Will not determine the insurability of the property – Being non-invasive, the process of home inspection is not supposed to determine the insurability of your property. We present the facts, insurance companies determine the risk.
  7.  Will not suggest about Purchase of the Property – The task of a home inspector is to examine the property and not to give suggestions about whether you should purchase it or not.
  8.  Can’t determine the Life Expectancy of the Home and its Components – A home inspection is all about the visual examination of the property and is not set up to determine the life expectancy of the house or its systems and components.
  9. Will not include Temporary Items – A home inspector will examine your home and the permanently installed items within. It is not supposed to examine the ones that are not permanently installed.
  10. Standards Applicable to Properties with Four or Fewer Residential Units – The above stated Standards of Practice apply only to properties with four or fewer residential units. So homeowners must keep it in mind.

Contact South Florida Home Inspection Association to find out what home inspection services we provide or check out our blog for more information on what to expect and what not to from a home inspection.

Posted by South Florida Home Inspections  |  Comments Off on 10 Things You Must Know About Home Inspection Limitations  |  in General, Home Preparedness, Home Protection

Are You Prepared for Florida’s Rainy Season?

South Florida’s rainy season brings with it both good and not-so-good elements, and we 042011-1have to prepare our homes for both. Mid-May through October is considered the rainy season with August and September seeing the highest rainfall. Throughout this timeframe, South Florida normally receives 26.78 inches – that’s 70 percent of an entire year’s rainfall! Additionally, one minute it can be a downpour and clear skies the next; or raining on your home but not on your neighbor’s home across the street. This is Florida’s rainy season – if you don’t like the weather, just wait an hour; it will change. Continue Reading →

Posted by South Florida Home Inspections  |  Comments Off on Are You Prepared for Florida’s Rainy Season?  |  in General, Home Preparedness
  • S. Florida Home Inspection Assoc.
    P.O. Box 32592, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33420
    Phone: 561-818-5593 Fax: (772) 325-0204 E-mail: sfloridahome@gmail.com